I have been planning on writing this article for a while but I always felt that this topic was big enough to write an entire book on. It only consists of two core sets of issues that are important in our society, after all. But I finally am writing this because I feel that it is my raison d’être to unite people. I am not special or that good at uniting people, but it is something I want to do. I have always disliked conflict but the 2016 election cycle gave me a crash course in deeply draining conflict.
I have had several conversations with a close friend of mine about this issue and he and I disagree primarily only on one facet of this issue. My argument is that while the economic issues need to be addressed, you cannot address that alone without responding in some way to social issues. It is true that economic realities and day to day life for many working-class Americans can influence how easily a person can be persuaded to believe in fairly atrocious ideas that they normally would not be vulnerable to, but there are structural issues regarding minority issues that actually have profound impacts beyond just economics.
Not all Trump supporters were racists, xenophobes or authoritarians! I feel like that would be grossly hyperbolic to state that. Due to the nature of our media, certain types of events are magnified and may make certain groups more visible than is really necessary. It makes these people, who may not actually represent a sizable portion of a community, seem like the normal. But these following statements can all be true:
- The Democrats “working class” voters abandoned the Democratic party after little change in their lives during the Obama years. Still hungering for a change these struggling families, some of whom had voted for Obama twice, voted for Trump to get a shock to the system.
- A formerly dormant group of voters, who hadn’t had a candidate who openly espoused nationalistic and right-wing media vitriol in public, were energized by Trump’s unapologetic hateful messaging.
It is important to note that capitalism and imperialism also play their part in all of this. The elites from both parties benefit from the system and this is something that has been true for a very long time. As the Democrats lick their wounds from an embarrassing defeat by Donald Trump, it has become very clear that neither party has the solution to a structural problem that neither party wants to change. The Republicans want a radical transformation in government, but only the kind that enriches the rich and takes from minorities and anyone deemed a “leech” by decimating what is left of the welfare state. A war on welfare, both psychologically and policy-wise, has been relentlessly pushed by the right wingers in our government. There has been no legitimate left-wing alternative to the Democrats in the United States for a very long time. Most Republicans from the 50’s would be to the left of most of the Democrats today on economic issues.
The economic issues that face our country need to be addressed. If people’s lives start to get better they may be more willing to talk about other issues that regard class and identity. But you cannot wait until that happens to be willing to address the issues facing minority communities. As a white male, I cannot speak for any minority, but I can say that I cannot imagine how it must feel to be judged by your skin color. Racism is alive and well, and while the virulent Jim Crow epithets are not thrown around regularly, subconscious judgments and subtle dog whistles are still here.
Conservatives often use crime statistics to discuss “black on black crime” as a serious issue and this is used to justify racist ideas. While racism on a personal level is a problem, the structural racism that has been in place since the founding of our country is something that needs to be targeted. You cannot address one issue without understanding how it affects another issue. Class and identity politics influence each other. Martin Luther King Jr. was someone who understood this. He didn’t just talk about civil rights, he fought for the rights of all of the working class. He was a staunch opponent of the Vietnam war. We must rediscover compassion and rediscover what we all have in common. We need to reconnect with our communities and figure out what unites us. We need to brush aside the elites in both parties who consistently put the needs of the very rich above everyone else.
Recommendations for further reading
The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
Listen Liberal by Thomas Frank
Pity the Billionaire by Thomas Frank
Democrats: A Critical History by Lance Selfa
CounterPunch magazine for regular great articles on the current issues
The Death of the Liberal Class by Chris Hedges
Your Country Is Just Not That Into You by Jimmy Dore
Profit Over People by Noam Chomsky
Requiem for an American Dream by Noam Chomsky
Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion by Jeffery St. Clair
The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein
No is Not Enough by Naomi Klein